(photo credit: Cassidy Lewellen)
This is the holiest week in the Christian faith. It is a week of reflection and celebration. And contrary to everything my kids have seen on tv this week, it is not a spring egg-stravaganza.
This past Sunday was Palm Sunday. It was the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and the people spread palm leaves out on the road. They shouted, “Hosanna!” (Matthew 21:1-11) as He rode in. It was just days before Jesus was betrayed, arrested, beaten and crucified.
Friday is Good Friday, the day Jesus died for you and me and everyone else. It is a day of remembrance. Jesus lived a sinless life and was willing to die on the cross for all of us. God loves us so much He sent His Son to die a horrible death for you and me.
And Sunday is Easter. A day of great celebration. The day Jesus conquered the grave and rose from the dead. It is the day that the stone was rolled away from the tomb to show the world an empty grave. (Matthew 28) This is the most important of all the biblical stories. Without Jesus rising from the dead, none of the rest of it matters.
I have two young boys, and they love cartoons. Their favorites can be found on Nick Jr. and the Disney Channel. Yesterday every cartoon was about Easter. Wow. That sounds great, doesn’t it? But the Easter being celebrated on tv is not the Easter that we will be celebrating. All the shows were about the Easter bunny and finding eggs and helping the bunny and a celebration of spring and the blooming flowers. It got to the point that my youngest son asked me if Easter was the Easter bunny’s birthday. Um, no. Easter is not the bunny’s birthday.
This lead to a long discussion where we pulled out their children’s Bible (or the Jesus book as it gets called around here). We read through all the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) discussing all the miraculous things Jesus did. And then we got to the crucifixion (which is very, very condensed). I then had to explain all sorts of fun words to a four year old and a six year old. Words like death, dead, grave, and tomb. Once they understood that as best they could, we got to the resurrection.
We talked about how Jesus rose from the dead and how that meant that He was alive again. We talked about how He is living in Heaven with God and someday He is going to come back and get us so we can live with Him. I told them that Easter is the day we celebrate that Jesus is alive. And my six year old reacted to that information the way we all should. He looked at me with his eyes wide and said, “WOW!” And, really, wow is the best way to describe all of it.
Are we doing it wrong?
As I’ve been writing here about faith, I’ve thought a lot about it. I’ve thought about what my faith means to me and how we celebrate the holidays, especially now that we have kids. I’ve thought about Christmas, the celebration of Jesus’s birth. I wrote a post about how we handle Santa Claus in a Christian home. And then I thought about how we celebrate Easter. We read the Bible. We talk about how Jesus is alive. We do go on egg hunts. We do not do the Easter bunny. The boys know that the bunny is pretend.
But as I was thinking about all of this, I wondered if we are celebrating these two important holidays the right way. For Christmas, we gather our families together sometimes with celebrations happening on multiple days. There are gifts and lights and decorations and parties. It is spectacular and over the top.
And then Easter comes. There are no lights and decorations unless you have an Easter Lily. Theres no big gift giving. Depending on your family, there may be some candy or even Easter baskets and some gifts like religious jewelry or Bibles. And sure, you may even have an Easter dinner. But I’m guessing that you don’t put up decorations a month (or more) in advance of Easter. I’m guess there’s not a giant pile of gifts awaiting your kids when they wake up Easter morning. And although you may have dinner with your extended family, I think it’s a safe bet that you aren’t having Easter dinner three or four times with all of your family and friends. And your employer probably hasn’t thrown an Easter party for you and your coworkers.
Compare the two holidays. These are the two big ones for Christians, and I think we may be doing them wrong.
A real reason for celebration
Don’t get me wrong. Christmas deserves all the celebration and grandeur it gets. Jesus came to Earth as a baby and it is right that we celebrate His birth. But without Easter, without the cross and the resurrection, Christmas would be just another birthday. Without the cross and the empty tomb, the manger is just another birth.
At any time, Jesus could have ended His mission on Earth. He didn’t have to let the soldiers arrest Him. He didn’t have to be beaten. He could have saved Himself from the cross. But He chose to fulfill God’s plan. He chose you and me. He gave His life so we could have eternal life with Him. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:16-17)
We should be shouting it from the rooftops. Our Lord is alive! Our Savior has risen! The stone was rolled away so we could see that the tomb was empty. The sun rose that morning to show the world that He is alive.
This Sunday we will thank God for the sunshine and the flowers that are starting to bloom and the green grass and even bunnies, but that’s not what we’ll be celebrating. We will be celebrating that Jesus is alive.
This year we are celebrating while looking through the eyes of a child who heard the story and could only say, “Wow!”
Jesus IS alive! WOW!